The difference between a single malt whiskey and a blended whiskey is not as straightforward as one might think, and misconceptions surround the topic.
It’s time to set the record straight on single malt whiskey and blended whiskey.
Single Malt vs. Blended Scotch Whiskey – What’s The Difference?
Single malt whisky is made entirely from malted barley, whereas a blended Scotch contains both malt and grain whisky. The most significant difference between the two is the distillation process.
Single malt whisky is produced and bottled in a single distillery, whereas blended, as the name suggests, is a blend of two or more malt and grain whiskies.
Blended Scotch is generally lighter and softer on the palate than single malt whisky. It also has a more complex flavor due to the different flavors of the malt and grain whiskies that are used in the blend.
While there are many excellent blended Scotches on the market, single malt whisky is generally considered to be the superior product. This is because it is less processed and more representative of the terroir of Scotland.
What is Scotch?
The first and most important rule of Scotch is that it has to be made in Scotland.
Distillers who want to call their product Scotch likewise must produce their whiskey in Scotland. But that’s only one stipulation of the Scotch Whiskey Regulations 2009, the legislation under which the production, bottling, labeling, packaging and advertising of Scotch whiskey remains governed.
Based on the Scotch Whiskey Act of 1988, “Scotch whiskey” means a potable spirit produced at a distillery in Scotland from water and malted cereals with or without whole grains of other cereals and fermented by the action of yeast.
The spirit must have an alcoholic strength by volume of less than 94.8% ABV—this was increased from 90% ABV in 2009—and must have been: a) matured in Scotland in oak casks for no less than three years; b) subject during that time to no process other than filtration and dilution prior to bottling; and c) bottled at a minimum alcoholic strength by volume of 40% ABV. to be called Scotch whisky.
Peat and Scotch Whiskey
Many people believe that all scotch whiskey is peated. This is not the case, as there are many scotch whiskies that are not peated at all. In fact, peat is only used in a small minority of scotch whiskies.
The main reason for this is that peat is a costly fuel source, and it can also add a robust flavor to the whiskey. As a result, most producers prefer to use other heat sources to dry their barley.
However, some producers still use peat, which can give the whiskey a unique flavor. There are many distilleries in other parts of the world that use peat to dry their barley.
One of the most famous examples is the Japanese distillery Yamazaki, which produces a popular single malt whiskey that is made with peated barley.
All to illustrate, there are many misconceptions about peated whiskey. However, the reality is that peated whiskey can be made anywhere in the world, unlike Scotch, which is exclusively made in Scotland.
Single Malt Whiskey
Single malt whiskey is a type of whiskey that is made from a single type of grain, typically barley.
The term “single malt” refers to the whiskey being made at a single distillery, using water from a single source. Single malt whiskey is typically aged in oak barrels for several years, resulting in a smooth, rich flavor.
While single malt whiskey is often associated with Scotland, it can be produced anywhere globally. In recent years, single malt whiskey has become increasingly popular due in part to its relatively complex flavor profile.
History of Single Malt Whiskey
Single malt Scotch whiskey has a long and rich history dating back to the 1820s when it was first popularized in Scotland.
At that period, there was a strong dislike for a lot of the whiskey produced by the large Lowland distilleries. The leading distillers of the day adopted rapid distillation techniques in order to evade the steep excise duties levied on still capacity.
Those processes were said to produce a harsh, undrinkable spirit that was only good for making gin. However, large quantities of this cheap product were supplied to Scottish shops and taverns nonetheless.
Eventually, the high demand for single malt Scotch whiskey led to the formation of many different Highland distilleries, each with its own unique process and flavor profile.
Today, single malt Scotch whiskey is enjoyed worldwide, and its popularity shows no signs of slowing down.
Popular Single Malt Brands
There are many popular single malt whiskey brands, but four, in particular, stand out: Glenlivet, Aberfeldy, Highland Park, and Lagavulin. Each of these brands has its own distinct flavor profile, making it ideal for a range of different occasions.
Glenlivet is a fruity and floral whisky with a light body, making it perfect for enjoying on its own or as an aperitif.
Aberfeldy is a bit more robust, with a honeyed sweetness and a slightly smoky finish. It’s ideal for sipping neat or enjoying with a cigar.
Highland Park is a rich and complex whisky with hints of peat smoke and sweet heather. It’s perfect for savoring on its own or enjoying with a nice steak.
Finally, Lagavulin is an intensely flavorful whisky with peat smoke, seaweed, and iodine notes. It’s best enjoyed neat or on the rocks.
When it comes to blended Scotch whiskey, there are three main types of blends: blended malt, blended grain, and blended whiskey.
Each of these blends has its own unique flavor profile, so it’s important to know what you’re looking for before choosing one.
- Blended malt whiskey is made by blending two or more single malt whiskies. This type of blend typically has a richer, more complex flavor than a single malt whiskey.
- On the other hand, Blended grain whiskey is made by blending two or more single grain whiskies. This type of blend tends to be lighter and smoother than blended malt whiskey.
- Blended whiskey is any combination of at least one single malt whiskey with at least one single grain whiskey. This type of blend offers a balanced flavor that combines the best of both worlds.
History of Blended Whiskey
Blended whiskey has always been a controversial topic within the world of spirits. For many, this idea stems from the fact that blended whisky was a solution created to make the whisky-making process more financially beneficial for distilleries.
The practice of blending whiskey was first experimented with in the late 1800s. It allowed distilleries to combine multiple spirits from a variety of sources to create a whiskey that was lighter, sweeter, and, more importantly, consistent from bottle to bottle.
At the time, the new approach to making whiskey was snubbed by many connoisseurs who favored the traditional Scottish and Irish single-pot method.
However, it cannot be denied that blended scotch has now become one of the most popular spirits in the world. What’s more, some of the best-selling brands of whiskey are blends.
Popular Blended Whiskey Brands
Blended whiskies are some of the most popular on the market and for a good reason. The most notable brands on the market today are blended.
Monkey Shoulder is a widely-available blended malt whisky made with single malts from three different Speyside distilleries.
Compass Box is a less traditional blended whisky, made with both single malts and single grains from all over Scotland.
As for blended whiskey, Johnnie Walker, Chivas Regal, and Dewar’s are all well-known brands that produce high-quality spirits.
Single Malt vs. Blended Scotch Whiskey Final Thoughts
At the end of the day, it’s up to you to choose the Scotch whiskey that’s right for you. All Scotches have to meet specific category-wide requirements in order to be called Scotch whiskey.
So whether you prefer a single malt or a blended whiskey is really just a matter of personal taste.